Summer is apparently a slow time for whisky sales in Ontario – at least judging by all the marketing push at the LCBO for everything but whisky these days.
I look forward to the lead-up to Christmas, when the LCBO stocks a much wider array of mid-range and higher-end whiskies (especially single malts). Right now, it is the high volume, low-end whiskies that seem to dominate on the shelves. With Canada Day almost here, I thought I would do an analysis of the summer product distribution of Canada’s largest distillers (thanks to the helpful LCBO app).
What I’ve done is to search the LCBO app and website for all “budget” Canadian whiskies (i.e., in the $25-30 range). From this, I developed a list of all producers/distillers currently offering entry-level products (as a proxy for the largest distillers). I then tracked the LCBO inventory for the entire brand and expression range of the whiskies these distillers produce, in all bottle sizes. There were half a dozen distillers with less than 6000 liters of product on inventory at the LCBO, which I excluded from the further analysis (you’ll see why in a moment).
At the end of the day, this gives me a good dataset of the full pre-Canada Day LCBO inventory of all the products made by the largest Canadian whisky producers. The full searchable data table is available at the bottom of this post.
Before I get into the top-line observations from this whole dataset, there is one interesting feature to note in a subset of whiskies. Most of the entry-level expressions of these major distillers are available in a range of bottle sizes (i.e., from 200mL up to 3000mL). For all whisky brands where multiple bottles sizes were available, here is the distribution of the total current LCBO inventory (combined from all producers), as of June 28, 2015:
As you can see, the 750mL and 1140mL sizes are the clear “sweet spot” for the production and sale of budget whiskies (not surprisingly). What may be a little surprising is the absolute number of bottles in inventory. Again, the above chart is only for expressions that are released in multiple bottle sizes (which are typically just the base expression of each producer).
So what are the key observations from the whole set? Let’s start with a ranking by production levels, for each identified distiller on the LCBO site. Note that these distillers may in fact be distributors (and some are owned by the same conglomerates). As such, I will also provide the names of the specific brands they produce, since that is what you are likely to recognize. Here they are, in order of total inventory of all whisky products (in liters) at the LCBO right now:
- Corby Distilleries Ltd (Wiser’s, Hiram Walker, Royal Reserve, Lot 40) – 148007 liters
- The Crown Royal Distilling Co. (Crown Royal) – 105383 liters
- Forty Creek Distillery (Forty Creek, Canada Gold) – 96603 liters
- Canadian Club Whisky Company (Canadian Club) – 79156 liters
- Schenley (Seagram’s, Black Velvet, Golden Wedding) – 52258 liters
- William Grant & Sons (Gibson’s) – 43819 liters
- Carrington Distillers (Alberta Premium, Alberta Springs) – 41460 liters
The relative rankings aren’t too surprising to me, especially with the Wiser’s juggernaut in Canada. I’ve noticed a lot people buying Crown Royal, so that makes sense as second place. But Forty Creek is certainly quite the success story, given that they have only been around for a short period of time. The Alberta distillers do remarkably well in Ontario as well, it seems.
The absolute volume of whisky in Ontario is a bit of an eye opener for me. Just focusing on these major distilleries, that’s over 566,000 liters of Canadian whisky currently sitting on LCBO shelves (at the time of year when whisky sales seem to be at their lowest).
What percentage of those whiskies are mid-range or higher? Very little. If you crunch the numbers, it turns out that (by volume) 96.1% of the output of these Canadian distilleries goes into <$30 whiskies. That means that less than 4% of their output (based on current LCBO inventories) could even have a shot at being called a “sipping whisky”. The vast majority is clearly designed for mixed drinks, as entry-level product.
To add insult to whisky-snob pride, want to guess how much of this total output is geared toward flavoured whisky products? According to the dataset, 8% of the above are flavoured whisky drinks. And that is likely an underestimate of the true market share, since there are other popular flavoured whisky drinks that are not being captured in this analysis. For example, if we add the popular cinnamon-flavoured shooter “Fireball” into the dataset, the overall proportion of flavoured whisky rises to 10% of the new total.
For the higher-end whisky enthusiast, these results can only be described as … sobering.
EDIT: As an aside, here is an interesting article from ScotchBlog.ca outlining their challenges with the LCBO.
Below is the full table, in number of bottles sitting in inventory for the LCBO on June 28, 2015.
Standard Pice (750mL)
|Carrington Distillers||Alberta Premium||$25||10390||13890||8877||6426||6645||32899|
|Carrington Distillers||Alberta Premium Dark Horse||$31||3351||2513|
|Carrington Distillers||Alberta Springs||$25||1||2724||1681||6048|
|Canadian Club Whisky Company||Canadian Club (Premium)||$26||14118||13837||15715||13505||7179||861||50341|
|Canadian Club Whisky Company||Canadian Club Reserve||$27||3082||2312|
|Canadian Club Whisky Company||Canadian Club Clasic||$28||13||4614||4718||3793||1616||12423|
|Canadian Club Whisky Company||Canadian Club Maple||$27||4301||3226|
|Canadian Club Whisky Company||Canadian Club Rye||$27||7587||1642||1565||10301|
|Canadian Club Whisky Company||Canadian Club Sherry||$33||738||554|
|The Crown Royal Distilling Co.||Crown Royal||$29||9573||1||22013||24007||14881||1170||75344|
|The Crown Royal Distilling Co.||Crown Royal Apple||$30||17728||13296|
|The Crown Royal Distilling Co.||Crown Royal Maple||$30||5226||3920|
|The Crown Royal Distilling Co.||Crown Royal Black||$33||7165||2521||8248|
|The Crown Royal Distilling Co.||Crown Royal Limited Edition||$40||2275||1706|
|The Crown Royal Distilling Co.||Crown Royal Special Reserve||$55||1200||900|
|The Crown Royal Distilling Co.||Crown Royal Monarch 75th||$60||2146||1610|
|The Crown Royal Distilling Co.||Crown Royal Extra Rare Blue||$180||479||359|
|Forty Creek Distillery||Canada Gold||$25||11||3207||2163||7449|
|Forty Creek Distillery||Forty Creek Barrel Select||$27||18743||14197||19225||13292||5627||48491|
|Forty Creek Distillery||Forty Creek Spiked Honey||$28||9234||6926|
|Forty Creek Distillery||Forty Creek Copper Pot||$30||10696||6891||2897||20947|
|Forty Creek Distillery||Forty Creek Cream||$29||8057||4040||10648|
|Forty Creek Distillery||Forty Creek Double Barrel||$60||1721||1291|
|Forty Creek Distillery||Forty Creek Confederation Oak||$70||1133||850|
|William Grant & Sons||Gibson's Sterling||$27||6696||7144||4320||20726|
|William Grant & Sons||Gibson's 12yo||$30||5129||8155||7202||3629||22601|
|William Grant & Sons||Gibson's 18yo||$75||656||492|
|Schenley||Seagram's Five Star||$25||5||4|
|Schenley||Black Velvet Toasted Caramel||$27||2656||1992|
|Corby Distilleries Ltd||Royal Reserve||$25||5508||5754||3173||16243|
|Corby Distilleries Ltd||Hiram Walker's Special Old||$25||6496||7406||5500||4924||4074||20944|
|Corby Distilleries Ltd||Lot 40||$40||1713||1953|
|Corby Distilleries Ltd||Wiser's Special Blend||$25||12161||12640||10280||6417||36989|
|Corby Distilleries Ltd||Wiser's Deluxe||$27||16926||16415||16476||21014||8511||556||62416|
|Corby Distilleries Ltd||Wiser's Torched Toffee||$28||1162||872|
|Corby Distilleries Ltd||Wiser's Spiced Vanilla||$28||3184||3672||3948|
|Corby Distilleries Ltd||Wiser's Small Batch||$30||3774||2831|
|Corby Distilleries Ltd||Wiser's Legacy||$50||789||592|
|Corby Distilleries Ltd||Wiser's 18yo||$70||1007||755|
|Corby Distilleries Ltd||Wiser's Red Letter||$100||619||464|